(Editor’s note: June 1 is the opening of Sheep Ranch, one of the most highly anticipated course openings of the last decade. Golfweek will have additional coverage all day long, including hourly photos on Instagram, and an Instagram Live with Golfweek Travel Editor Jason Lusk.
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BANDON, Ore. – The cliffside holes at the new Sheep Ranch – at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort as a whole, really – tend to steal the spotlight. They are stunning, perched 100 feet above the Pacific Ocean on nearly vertical rock walls.
But don’t think the new inland holes fashioned by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are any less intriguing. With rolling terrain and wind-sculpted contours that constantly ebb and flow like the waves of the adjacent Pacific Ocean, the inland holes at the Sheep Ranch are stars on their own.
Take Nos. 8 and 11 as examples.
The eighth hole on the new course, which opens June 1, is a dogleg-right par 4 that plays 429 yards off the back tees. There are no trees or sand traps – the entire Sheep Ranch has no traditional bunkers – to protect the dogleg. Instead, it’s native grasses, rolling contours and wind that dictate how best to play the hole.
A large ridge runs down the wide fairway as it curves rightward toward the green. Place your tee shot atop the ridge, and you will be rewarded with a view of the green and a clear approach shot. But if you try to take the shorter route to the right side, you likely will find your ball in a fairway swale with no view of the green and a much tougher approach.
Much of that depends on the wind. On a south wind the hole will play shorter, allowing long hitters to bang their tee shots close enough to the green that an open sightline won’t much matter. But into a north wind, the placement of the tee shot is crucial.
“The goal is to get up on that ridge,” Coore said. “It’s an interesting hole. We hope that people will look at it and try to figure out what they need to do. … The terrain makes all the difference.”
No. 11 is no less interesting. The 529-yard par 5 climbs the tallest hill on the property towards the green, with a scattering of pine trees down the left. An indifferent second shot – either a layup or an attempt to get home in two on a south wind – can sail into a hazard or bluff on the right side, or down a steep embankment to the left from where a player faces a blind wedge shot straight up to the green.
And the approach to that green is the most secluded spot on an otherwise exposed course. If any of the Sheep Ranch’s holes remind a player of the other four highly ranked courses at the resort, No. 11 is it.
Nos. 8 and 11 are just two examples of using the contours to shape challenges without bunkers or trees impeding the line of play. The par-4 14th has a dramatic swale along the left side of the fairway, forcing a blind approach shot over a hilltop. The short par-4 second dares players to swing for the fences to get nearer the green with the help of a north wind, but a long tee shot into the left side of the fairway leaves a player with a delicate uphill, downwind pitch that is difficult to control.
It’s all about placement and strategy. And it’s all dictated by the terrain.
“When you get out there walking, you realize, man these contours are just beautiful,” Coore said. “We tried to let those contours and the coastline dictate the type of course. It’s hard to describe in words, but if you’ve seen it, you know.”